It’s road trip time! We started the day early to pick up our rental car at Times Rental near Hakata Station. Unfortunately, we head to deal with Japan rush hour on the train again; however, this time was a little more manageable given Fukuoka is not as big of a city as Tokyo. We made it to Hakata station and grabbed some food and snacks for the trip from the convenience store before going to pick up our car.
Questionable Car Choice
Aaron’s car of choice this trip is a cute but not very practical Mazda Miata. He found out ahead of time that the trunk space is limited so we stored one of our hard carry-on suitcases at the hotel (who was gracious enough to store it for us for a few days even though we had checked out). So in total we had two small backpacks, one carry-on suitcase and one duffel bag. Because the duffel is soft, we can squish it to fill in the space of the small trunk. We were only able to fit one of the backpacks. We had to hold one backpack in the front.
After getting comfortable in our newly acquired car, we were off! We have learnt it the hard way that “mapcodes” were the way to best navigate with the built-in GPS, so we looked up the “mapcode” of our first destination (Takachiho Gorge) and headed towards the expressway. The toll charges are automatically loaded into a card in the car. Aaron had decided to get the prepaid card with a fixed fee if you stayed on certain highways. It was very confusing so we just took whichever road and wished for the best. There was a toll which cost 2800 yen so we were really hoping that this road would be included in the price.
It was initially mainly highway driving so we kept the top down until we were closer to Takachiho Gorge. It was nice to breathe in some fresh air. Once at the gorge, we were able to secure the last spot in the parking lot before there was a long line of cars waiting. We then walked around the gorge, which had quite magnificent views, especially with the row boats. We decided against renting a boat since we felt the views are nicer from the top down than at water level. After capturing some amazing shots of the gorge, we walked along the path towards the shrine. Little did we know that the “walk” to the shrine was actually a bit of hike. On our path, we encountered a snake and made sure to keep our distance. We were definitely not dressed for a hike, so we sweated it out in our jeans and finally reached the shrine. It was a simple shrine, so we took a quick walk around and then headed back towards the car.
Spa Greenness: an Oasis in Nature
It was starting to rain, so we decided to check-in to our hotel, Spa Greenness. It’s in a pretty quiet area about a 15-minute drive away from the Kurokawa Onsens. There were only a few hotels there and the one we chose was a mid-range resort which had a surprisingly spacious room with nice views of Mount Aso. The room was significantly more spacious than any other place we’ve stayed at in Japan. We had a private bath in our room with large windows overlooking the Aso Caldera. The dressing room was beautiful and had a nice vanity area. We were provided with 2-piece PJs to wear which was different than the usual yukatas.
There were a couple of restaurants nearby but apparently we had to make reservations ahead of time. We had tried to email the resort earlier but it did not seem to have gotten through. We thought that since it didn’t seem too busy, it would be easy to make reservations the day of. Unfortunately, it seems like the restaurants are only open based on demand so the Japanese restaurant next door that we had wanted to go to wasn’t open for business today. Since we are no longer close to a large city, language barriers were more apparent here. With help from Google Translate, we were able to get a quick tour of our room and had asked the nice man showing us our room for dinner options. He suggested we go to a restaurant closer to Kurokawa Onsen town.
Since we were sweaty and gross from our impromptu hike at Takachiho Gorge, we took advantage of our private bath and had a quick soak before heading out for dinner. We followed Google Map to our destination, unfortunately, Google was not aware that the route it suggested consisted of extremely unmanicured roads that have signs that possibly read do not take this path. We were already en route through this equivalent to a pedestrian path road so there is no turning back now as it would mean having to back up through windy roads, which seemed more dangerous at that time. With much caution, we finally made it to the restaurant. Unfortunately, it appears that it was closed! So, we decided to head into the onsen town to try our luck there.
It was only around 7:30pm but the town seemed very quiet. I guess most people would be eating in their ryokan. Most shops were closed. We found one restaurant which exuded the smell of BBQ but when we walked in, they said they were full. We were pretty desperate at this time, and vowed to eat the first restaurant that is open, regardless of the type of food. Otherwise, we were just going to head back to the hotel and eat the instant bowl noodles we had picked up earlier from the convenience store at Hakata station.
Hope in Times of Desparation
Just when we were going to give up, we found 味処 なか. We immediately grabbed a seat at the counter. We had chosen a few dishes to try, starting with the basashi (horse sashimi), which was famous in this region. We also had the fish sashimi. It was very fresh and we particularly liked the white fish which tasted like butter. The salmon was also very melt-in-your-mouth. For hot foods, I had the yakisoba, which was definitely less oily and fatty compared to the ones we’ve had in Canada. Aaron had the tempura set meal. The tempura was very light. It was a lovely meal and it was nice to sample various items.
Half way through our meal, I had noticed the female owner and a younger female staff were chatting in front of us and looking at us. Eventually the younger staff translated that they were wondering where we were from. Then they asked if we were married as they noticed the ring on my finger. They complimented my ring and I patted Aaron on the back for choosing it. Then they asked if we are on our honeymoon. We said no, and that we’ve been married for a few years and they seemed surprised. I wonder why they had thought that. Nonetheless, it was nice to have them want to interact with us even though their English was limited. As we were eating they took extra care made sure that we enjoyed the food appropriately. For example, they made sure that Aaron put the tororo and ginger in his tempura sauce prior to dipping the tempura in. You can tell they were proud of their craft and want us to enjoy it in the best possible way.
After dinner we headed home and I passed out while Aaron took another bath and munched on some expensive Kumamon* chips we had picked up at a store in the onsen town.
*Kumamon is the mascot of the Kumamoto prefecture. He is a very cute bear and appears on many signage and souvenirs. He also does a very good job of convincing us to buy over-priced items during our time here just because he is on it.